The Wolf who worked for ABC

27 02 2014

I would like, if I may, to take you on a strange journey

The Criminologist from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

They all kept telling me that I should do it, they told me over and over again, those friends of mine on a forum I was on, It could do this, it could do that, I wasn’t interested, because Second Life looked too much like a game, and I wasn’t a gamer, there would be no way that I’d ever use it.

Then I saw it on “Beyond Tomorrow” on Channel Seven, and decided that I could try it, and if I didn’t like it, I could simply leave.

I signed up.

I found myself on an island where avatars were born, and I couldn’t get off that Island, I was getting frustrated and may have logged out forever, except a friend found me and teleported me, to her.

Things started to look better, except I was still somewhat lost, but I found other friends were already in there, and they helped me get started. One of the first things I wanted to do, was to shed my human form, something many of us furries would eagerly do in real life, if it were possible.

One of my friends felt he could see the potential of Second Life and so bought us an island, which would be our home base, I was kind of shocked, buying an island was expensive, but I couldn’t stop him from getting one, and about a week later, there it was.

We were just feeling our way around, the experience was like being on another planet, and one where we were free to be ourselves completely, like some sort of hippy commune, we would walk around “naked” in this world. It’s funny, but it doesn’t take long for the avatar to feel as though it’s an extension of yourself, so when someone catches you naked, it’s a little bit embarrassing.

Furry culture thinks that sex, of any kind, is quite a normal thing, and that genitals are merely another part of the body.

I had genitals, multiple kinds for each avatar… human, equine, canine and dragon and we wore these proudly and flashed them about with gay abandon.

Psychologically it was quite interesting, there was a certain child-like thing about this stage of our lives in this virtual world.

Then I found out, via a friends forum, that ABC were investing in an island, and they wanted help, So I offered to help which was accepted, but it took months before the island opened, and there was lots of speculation and rumour about the island.

Abi, who was going to be the owner of the island, met with us on our own island, and we had a talk about how we’d set up our island, I think in general, most people want newbies to set up an island just like theirs, I think it’s an ego thing, I think we had a certain amount of pride in our island too.

The island did finally have a grand opening and loads of people went in to see it, I thought it started off really well, and I would meet some new people that day who I would get to know well over the next few years…

…Oh yes, did I say I was using Second Life every day now? It was now my main reason for using the internet, it ate data like crazy.

Later that day, a group of us were made Admins of the island, which allowed us to look after it, the fact was that ABC staff couldn’t keep an eye on it 24 hours a day, but the users could.

We could remove pests from the island, if we needed to, and we could report any technical issues with the island if anything went wrong.

Once something went very wrong, the island had pretty much vanished, and we thought that it was due to “Griefers” (a sort of internet vandal). Before we could get a definite reason for what went wrong, the story, and a photo of me flying around a deserted island, was published… but of course the story was laughable, it was a complete cockup, but loads of people read the story and many believed it.

The real story was that the computer which runs each island on Second Life, makes a backup of the island, every twelve hours or so, and during one backup, either the power failed or the computer crashed, resulting in a partial backup… so when the faulty backup was used to re-start the island, it looked as though someone had destroyed the place.

The people who run Second Life were told, and the island was started using an earlier backup, and everything went back to normal.

That’s all it was, but it’s not as exciting as the first story, is it?

I was on ABC Island a lot, trying hard to get people to come in and use it, but most people, like me at the start of this story, didn’t want to, and refused to even try it.

If they did, they’d get to the difficult first stage and give up.

Or their computer was too old and too slow to cope with Second Life.

Some people found the learning curve too steep, they either just wanted to play a game, or chat, this was over-complicated.

Or they lived way out in the country with extremely slow, or no broadband.

I knew that If we had the NBN back then, Then Second Life would have been wonderful for people in small communities around Australia, but sadly, with the woeful internet we have in regional areas, that wasn’t possible.

The Admins worked hard to get people to try Second Life, and especially our ABC Island which we were very proud of.

I should say at this point that many people thought I worked at ABC, because I was on ABC island so often, I told them that wasn’t the case, but  I did work *for* ABC, though only on a voluntary basis… Oh yes, it was work, it was surprising how much work there was, just to keep it going. If I had kept my own home that clean, the place would have been spotless.

But it was like having a really serious hobby which I was heavily involved with, so I enjoyed it.

I never had been put in a position of responsibility before, and because I wanted this project to work, I put as much into it as I could. and now I was dealing with new psychological changes, I found myself becoming strict, and if anyone disobeyed the rules, I’d get cranky about it and they’d suddenly “leave” the island.

Eventually there was another point where I gave myself a really good shake-up and told myself to lighten-up, I didn’t like what I was becoming, I wasn’t nearly as nice to people as I ought to be, at least that’s how I felt, I’ll let any of you who met me in world be the judge.

I had also, mostly been left with the job, You see, the other Admins, although they liked ABC Island a lot, and certainly helped me when I needed it, had found other creative interests and had decided to set up their own islands. They had developed and wanted to do their own things, which was great, but it had the effect of fragmenting the group.

A documentary crew had asked me to make a film about Second Life with them, which I did, but sadly, a lot of the facts about what I did on Second Life were dropped, I knew this at the time, but felt that making a film would still be fun. There was no mention of ABC because the film was made for another network, so a big part of what I really did on Second Life was left out.

I don’t blame the Director, She was under pressure from the network, who, after all, were funding the thing, but I was really quite unhappy about the result… ahh well, at least I had a few free meals and some fun.

The Doco involved Katie, My Alaskan Malamute, She had a few car rides out of it so she was happy.

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Katie and I, Taken during filming of Alter Ego: Photo – Matt Calissi, December Films.

I waited for a long time to see this Doco on air, and find out what people thought, but the network held onto it for ages, and then had some sort of review and changed from a station which played documentaries, into something which was more about general entertainment, the doco was shelved until one night, at 11pm on a December 23rd, thus, very few saw it.

As a good friend says “That’s Showbiz”.

Alas ABC was getting fewer visitors in later years, and I found myself standing around for hours, hoping someone would turn up, it was clear to me that Second Life wasn’t working, I had created Rockit, a music quiz show which did get people back to the island, but I was the only host, for what would always be a very small audience, as only a small number of people could ever be on an island at one time, We needed more hosts and more shows, Whenever anything was done which would draw an audience, it often did… but the logistics of getting it done were always difficult, there were roadblocks from ABCs side which couldn’t be overcome.

Second Life was an idea which came along at a point when computers weren’t up to the task and the internet wasn’t up to it either, If Second Life can hang in there for another ten years, then maybe it can regain some ground, but it’s going to take some imagination and some serious forward thinking, something we might have, but our government (like any right wing government) completely lacks.

This was also a time when I thought the ABC could do no wrong, but I have since seen it’s other face, and didn’t like it one bit.

When ABC Island closed down, I left Second Life completely, I had no purpose there anymore.

Wolfie Rankin

* I didn’t explain what Second Life was, Those who were there know exactly what it is, and those who weren’t, won’t care.

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My Virtual Frustration

26 10 2010

As many would know, I’ve been using Second life for about five years now, and during that time, it has given me friends… not cliché online friends who could be axe murderers or whatever, but genuine friends who I’ve met in real life and invited into my home.

I’ve had the opportunity to be involved with a documentary, “Alter Ego” commissioned by SBS, and to have a credit in an Australian feature film “Beautiful Kate”.

Second life has loads of potential, alas, in many ways, that’s often all it has.

Yes folks, I’m going to bite the hand that fed me.

Second life worked, at least it worked to a point. I found that I could work my rear end off creating some form of display, only to log in a few days later and find that another member of the island had done something, usually to the land, and this had upset my work.

If I write a blog post, in fact I’m writing one now, I know for a fact that however long I leave the page, when I finally do return, that all my words and posts will be intact… not floating in the air, or hurled into a lake or returned to me by another member.

One member of the ABC Admin had made a lovely garden area, which not only looked great but functioned very well, it was being used and enjoyed by others. I was annoyed to log in one day to find it all gone. It turned out that another member had said something which possibly offended the creator, and so she removed it, leaving a flat and empty construction zone which even today hasn’t been adequately used.

I also miss the Laneways, which despite some of the problems people had, mostly due to a slow down of their computer, refered to as “lag”. I was listening to the fors and againsts, and things were split 50-50, there was discussion on whether it should be kept or not, but eventually it was all taken down.

Rockit was something I had worked very hard on, it was my virtual music quiz show, which made an appearance in the documentary. But it was hard to bring people in to watch it… unlike television, it had to be done live and couldn’t be recorded for later… at least not by myself, and the point of it was the interaction, watching a recorded show wouldn’t have been quite as much fun. Having a live show meant that people had to be in the audience NOW
not always easy to do, I’ll admit, when the kids have to be put to bed or the dog walked.

As I said, Second life had a lot of potential, but many wouldn’t bother turning up to try it, I remember that I was even reluctant to try it, as I have never seen myself as a gamer, and at that point I assumed that it was a game.

Once I logged in, and stayed for a while, I realised that this was a 3D Social Network, where I could meet people and make real life friends, and since I found it difficult to get out due to my health, I found it a real boon, logging in for hours each day.

At one point, ABC offered a Science Discussion, hosted by members of the CSIRO which was a hit, but only lasted for about five weeks, I’m not really sure why. People asked me dozens of times if the CSIRO talks would return or if we’d have some other science content happening instead. Well I tried, I really did. I have some science connections and put the word out, but I may as well have been yelling into the wind as nobody was interested. of course all this would have been done for free since I’m just an individual who has no money to spare for projects and I do know that even keen scientists aren’t always keen to talk about their subject for free.

I tried inviting Pool into ABC Island, We had a building created, and thought that everything was all set to go, only to be trapped by certain legal hitches, or perhaps by people who just didn’t care. Everything ground to a halt.

I have told people about Second life and it’s potential, hell even if you’re not a gamer then surely you can see the benefit of standing with a group of people, you in Australia, a friend from New York, another from London and one from Germany… all talking together about things you did in real life today, for as long as you please. It’s the cheapest discussion ever, and much, much more fun than staring at a single face on Skype.

But they won’t log in… ok, maybe their computer is too old, or perhaps they don’t have the bandwidth, but then,
Second life doesn’t demand so much that it’s going to be that much of a problem. Sometimes it just seems to people that the learning curve is too great, but it’s not really, you pick things up as you go, people will give you handy little tips along the way.

It’s especially excellent for those with health issues or those who are stuck in rural locations and want to get out and socialise, but can’t.

I found the oddest thing was that when I was in Second Life, I didn’t feel like I was talking to my friend overseas on the phone, I felt like more like I was with them, and that was nice. Granted it’s not exactly the same… but how many of us can spontaneously decide to get the Lear jet refueled and fly to Canada on a whim?

Whether it was pre-conceived ideas or actual computer problems, people just never really seemed to give Second Life a real go, to see if it was useful.

It’s certainly every bit as useful an online tool as Facebook and Twitter, what went wrong? I’m not sure.

Anyway, for five years I tried my hardest, I did a lot of work, I tried to bring people in to show them that this place really can work well, but all I seem to have to show for it is a huge pile of frustration.

The island that I originally lived on and helped design recently ran low on funding, and it was sold off, I’m about to have everything I put in place returned to me, which saddens me somewhat, but there’s little I can do about it.

I’ve pretty much given up, I’ve been using Twitter and Facebook, and have been writing here, but as far as Second Life goes, I just feel like I’m banging my head against a brick wall.

And I seldom log in anymore.

Wolfie!